Tag Archives: Clarence Darrow

Looking for John Washington Butler and Finding Johnny Cash

2 Jun

The Scopes Monkey Trial is one of my favorite topics to discuss with students, and it ranks high for several reasons. First, it took place in Tennessee, and it is important for them to know that not all important events happen in faraway places. Second, it was a debate between religion and science, and that debate continues ninety years later. Third, it is an interesting story with interesting people.

When we talk about the trial, a few people tend to stand out. William Jennings Bryan had been a leader in the Democratic Party for thirty years and saw this as one last fight for ordinary citizens. Clarence Darrow was the most famous lawyer in the country and also viewed himself as a defender of the people. John Scopes was a high school teacher and coach who agreed to a publicity stunt and ended up with his name in the history books.

Of course, a lot of other people played important roles, and I try to talk about as many as possible. However, there is one person who played a vital role who tends to get skimmed over.

A lot of time is spent on the Butler Act, the law that banned the teaching of evolution, but little time is spent on its author, John Washington Butler. I know from an episode of American Experience that he was a member of the Tennessee legislature and that he represented the counties of Macon, Sumner and Trousdale, all of which are just across the Cumberland River from where I am sitting. However, that is about it.

With that in mind, I went looking for John Washington Butler. First, I wanted a picture of him and found it at findagrave.com.Butler

Then, I did what I tell my students not to do. I went to Wikipedia and found an article that was three sentences long. Obviously, that did not provide much information. However, there is one thing useful about Wikipedia. The sources at the bottom of the articles can be valuable.

Butler’s page has two links. The first is an entry by Jeanette Keith in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. It is a short sketch of the man and provides some insight into why he pushed for the ban on teaching evolution. I know this is a good place to find information because I wrote an article about a local sportswriter for the online encyclopedia.

The second source links to an article by Doug Linder for the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. It goes into great detail about Butler’s life and political career. It also describes the morning when Butler wrote the bill in his home.

My problem is that I do not know where the writer got this information. There are a few notes, but they do not provide much help. Also, there is another issue that may have been an accident but may also lead to questions about this article. When describing the trial, the following is written.

Sue Hicks, a local member of the prosecution team, ridicules the defense claim of unconstitutionality. It is “perfectly ridiculous to say,” Hicks says, “that a teacher…can go in and teach any kind of doctrine he wants.” What if, she wondered, a teacher hired to teach arithmetic decided he would rather teach architecture?

I highlighted the pronoun because Sue Hicks was a man. Legend states that he was the inspiration for “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. The story goes that the writer, Shel Silverstein, attended a speech by Hicks and was inspired to write the song.

That is an interesting story, but it has gotten me off subject. After my search for John Washington Butler, I know more than when I started. I know what he looks like. I know some things about his life and his career. However, I do not know as much as the Internet would like for me to believe.

 

If You Missed the Trial of the Century, Then Wait. There Will Be Another One Soon.

17 Jun

June 17, 1994 – I was at a Bluegrass festival being held at the Ward Ag Center in Lebanon. Porter Wagoner was the emcee, and I have no idea why because he was not a Bluegrass artists. Jim and Jesse performed, but I cannot remember who else was on the docket.

Why remember a long ago Bluegrass festival? Because word filtered through the crowd that O.J. Simpson, whose wife had been brutally murdered with her friend a few days earlier, was leading a low-speed chase through the freeways of Los Angeles. Helicopters were hovering over the white Bronco as O.J. and Al made their way through the city.White Bronco

As millions of people were mesmerized by the chase, I was listening to some of that good old mountain music. Through the years, I have seen the documentaries and the reruns, but the live version went on without me. In those days, you could not even bring it up on your phone. I know that is hard to imagine.

Of course, the events of that week led to a nationwide fascination with the case and the trial that found O.J not guilty. It was known as the Trial of the Century because everyone had an opinion.

This post could be about a lot of things. It could be about collective memory and the notion that everyone can remember where they were when a high event happened. It could be about the verdict and the opinions that followed. However, it is not about those things. It is about the fact that there was more than one Trial of the Century.

Everyone who remembers the O.J. Simpson trial thinks that it is the biggest legal event that ever happened. That know Judge Lance Ito. They know that it was the first time they ever heard the name Kardashian. However, there were earlier trials just as huge and just as fascinating to the general public.

1924 – The Leopold and Loeb Trial

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were students at the University of Chicago School of Law who wanted to commit the perfect crime. Together, they spent months planning the crime and murdered Bobby Franks, a 14 year-old boy. Clarence Darrow was hired to defend them, but his real job was to keep them away from the death penalty.

Loeb was killed in prison, and Leopold was released after serving 33 years.

1925 – The Scopes Monkey Trial

Tennessee outlawed the teaching of Evolution in public schools, and business leaders in Dayton decided to use that to gain some publicity. They “arrested” John Scopes for teaching the theory and sent word that a trial was to be held. It grew into more than they could have imagined with William Jennings Bryan agreed to serve as prosecution and Darrow agreed to be the defense.

The trial was broadcast on radio throughout the nation and became a fight between the forces of religion and the forces of science. Bryan died from the stress of the trial, and Darrow was foiled in his attempt to take the case to the Supreme Court. A technicality overturned the guilty verdict.

1935 – The Lindbergh Baby Trial

Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. This gained him more fame than he could have ever dreamed of. It also brought tragedy. His child, less than 2 years-old, was abducted, and ransom was demanded. There was an attempt to pay the money, but the child’s body was found a few miles from the Lindbergh home.

It seemed that everyone got in on the investigation, and suspicions finally fell on Richard Hauptmann, who was tried, sentenced and executed.

There have been numerous theories about this case. Did Hauptmann do it? Did the real killer get away with it? As the trial was going on, millions of people wanted to know.

Americans are fascinated by crimes. Heck, how many times a week does a crime get solved in an hour on some television show. However, those shows cannot compare to the real thing, and the public latches on to these stories as if they were “made for TV.” I guess those early ones were “made for radio.”

With that curiosity, we can be certain that there will be Trials of This Century just like there were Trials of the Last Century. Actually, we have already had one. I wonder what ever happened to Casey Anthony.